The techniques for training attention are relatively simple, but using them requires several steps and begins with understanding the facets of attention. First, there's the aspect of attention that involves choosing to focus on a particular object rather than any other. Then, there's the degree to which you sustain your focus on that particular object, despite distractions. There's also the ability to recognize if/when your attention wanders or dulls, in order to refocus as necessary.
Attention is what allows you to focus your mind's eye (like training binoculars on a bird) and awareness is what allows you to observe the quality of your attention (so you notice when the bird isn't in view anymore). Put simply, attention and awareness are two sides of the same coin: Attention functions with precision like a laser, while awareness watches where the laser goes.
There's an ever-expanding body of research that supports the efficacy of training attention, and much of the most exciting data concerns practicing mental techniques associated with mindfulness. In this context, mindfulness refers to a secular approach for paying attention to what's happening here and now.
Schoeberlein, D. R., & Sheth, S. (2009). Mindful teaching & teaching mindfulness: A guide for anyone who teaches anything. Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications. [Get it from your library]